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A personal reflection on mental health first aid training

One of Jonathan’s colleagues, David Hammond, writes about his experiences of Mental Health First Aid Training.

“It’s a funny old thing, mental health.  We all have mental health – it’s just that some of us have better mental health than others.  Poor mental health can creep up on us unexpectedly, in ourselves or our colleagues, friends and families.  It doesn’t always knock on the door to announce its arrival, and there may not be a single trigger that you can point to and say “that caused my mental health to decline”.

For me, I can point to one event that caused me to struggle mentally.  It was losing Jonathan.  Not only was he a colleague at Haseltine Lake, but a good friend, and I tormented myself for months with the “how”, “why”, “what if”.  I was supposed to be his friend, and I felt like I’d failed him.  How could I not have not seen this coming?  Why didn’t I spend the time to see how he was doing, and go for that beer we’d been talking about for so long?  What if I’d messaged him a few days before he died to tell him some exciting personal news, rather than waiting to tell him in person?  All of these futile thoughts, and the frustration of knowing I’ll never have satisfactory answers, led to most of last year passing me by in a foggy blur.

The one thing that I did resolve to do was to make sure that I did everything in my power to try and stop this happening to anybody else.  Not on my watch.  Not to anybody I care about.  I jumped at the chance to become one of the firm’s Mental Health First Aiders (we now have 24, across all offices) and willingly attended the two day course run by MHFA England.

Two accredited trainers came to our offices, and delivered an incredible course that not only equipped me with the skills and knowledge to look out for others, but set me on the path to improving my own mental health.  One of the things they taught us was that if we’re in a bad place ourselves, we can’t help others.  Knowing that MHFA England devised the course content and trained the trainers gives you real confidence that what you are being taught can and will make a difference.

Being a Mental Health First Aider isn’t about diagnosing a particular mental health condition in someone – we leave that to the professionals.  What we have been trained to do is to spot the warning signs, and then to know what to say and do.   Quite often it is just a case of sitting and listening – giving someone a safe place where they can unload in confidence is sometimes all they need to start feeling better about things.  We never tell someone what to do, but we are there to talk through what resources and services might be of help.

As a firm, and particularly as a group of MHFAs within the firm, we are committed to looking out for our colleagues and being there to provide support and advice when needed.  Mental health is so very often still overlooked as a workplace issue, and the more that employers can do to rectify this the better.    We have our own internal wellbeing campaign, HL Well, with a particular focus on mental wellbeing.

IP Inclusive is proving invaluable in spreading the word in the IP profession: improving mental health support is key to creating a more inclusive working environment.    From a recent survey of IP practitioners, those struggling with their mental health still find it incredibly hard to admit as much to their employer or peers, for fear of being seen as “weak”, or “not up to the job”.  It’s not a sign of weakness.  It’s ok to not be ok.

While IP Inclusive is amongst those leading the charge, the stigma surrounding poor mental health still pervades through many other professions.  All of us, regardless of our profession, have a collective responsibility to ourselves, our colleagues, and our friends and family, to break down the stigma and create a workplace in which mental health can be freely discussed. Having an employer-led focus on mental health in the workplace would go a long way to breaking down the stigma, whether it is an internal program such as our HL Well, or formal training from MHFA England to create a workplace team of Mental Health Champions and/or Mental Health First Aiders.

Jonathan’s death will stay with me forever. But, becoming a Mental Health First Aider has helped me make some sense of it all, and left me feeling better in myself and more importantly better equipped to be there for others.

As I write, the MHFAs at Haseltine Lake are busy planning for the future, preparing our own Mission Statement and collating resources on a range of mental health issues.

Fundamentally though, we’re focussed on the human interactions that can help so much.  It doesn’t take two minutes to check on a colleague or friend and ask how he or she is doing, but it could change their view of the world, and of their workplace, to know that someone cares and is there to listen.”

David Hammond, Haseltine Lake LLP

Thank you for sharing this informative and powerful reflection.

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